A unique adaptation of 'The Trojan Women' with a cast of solely Syrian women refugees recounting their stories of loss, flight and exile is coming to the UK with a 3-week summer tour. The tour will be an opportunity for the actresses to convey their personal tragedies and that of Syria, where a five-year war has led to 470,000 deaths and millions of homeless, leading to the biggest refugee crisis since the second world war.
Some things land like a sledgehammer and I would really, really, really love to go see this. For me, this is what the classics are all about: they are plays made by people, for people, to bring something unspoken or taboo into the light. I think one of the women in the trailer nailed it when she said: history repeats itself. It does, and often it's not pretty. The Trojan Woman is one of my, if not my, favourite ancient plays because it is absolutely gut wrenching. I can only imagine the impact it would have to see it with these women performing. If you are interested, you can go here for tickets.
The Trojan Women (Τρῳάδες, Trōiades) is a tragedy by the Hellenic playwright Euripides. It was produced in 415 BC during the Peloponnesian War and is often considered a commentary on the capture of the Aegean island of Melos and the subsequent slaughter and subjugation of its populace by the Athenians earlier that year. The Trojan Women was the third tragedy of a trilogy dealing with the Trojan War. The first tragedy, Alexandros, was about the recognition of the Trojan prince Paris who had been abandoned in infancy by his parents and rediscovered in adulthood. The second tragedy, Palamedes, dealt with Hellenic mistreatment of their fellow Hellenic Palamedes. This trilogy was presented at the Dionysia along with the comedic satyr play Sisyphos and won second place.
Euripides's play follows the fates of the women of Troy after their city has been sacked, their husbands killed, and as their remaining families are about to be taken away as slaves. Throughout the play, many of the Trojan women lament the loss of the land that reared them. It's a theme that rings oh so very true today for these women.
The play began as workshops with the Syrian director Omar Abusaada for 60 refugee women in Jordan from all walks of life to adapt and perform an Arabic interpretation of the play. Initially, several women faced pressure from some of the more conservative members of their community, who did not want them to go on stage. Differences of opinion emerged within the group itself; some wished to speak out publicly against the Assad government, others not. Others feared the consequences of speaking freely. Maha, one of the women in the play, said:
"Going to London is a very good thing indeed because we can tell the whole world about our home tragedy and of course, in a great country like Britain, the world will listen to us."
Several women have spoken about the therapeutic effects of the play, how it has brought them out of isolation, given them a new identity and family, and provided a sense of renewed purpose.
Khaula, another of the actors, said:
"We came to a new society and we were isolated. Doing the play made us break the ice and we started to connect with others and make some friends. It gave us the courage to talk about our problems frankly and clearly."
The UK project is a collaboration between Developing Artists, a charity working to support the arts in countries recovering from conflict, and Refuge Productions, founded by Georgina Paget and husband and wife team Charlotte Eagar and William Stirling. Refuge Productions came up with the original idea of transposing The Trojan Women to the Syrian war. Louise Chantal, the chief executive of the Oxford Playhouse, said it was a privilege to bring the project to Oxford:
“I can’t help thinking that the Queens of Syria might be the most important theatre project of the year.”
To coincide with the UK tour, the British Council will provide material online for thousands of schools in the UK and across the world to enable young people to discuss issues such as exile and trauma, and think about what they can do to welcome refugees. An event is also planned to link students with the cast.